Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tablet Thoughts: The Whole Picture


Suppose you saw the series of numbers:

1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5

and were asked what you thought the next three numbers might be.  You might reply "6, 6, 7"

But Do You Have All the Information?

That answer rests on assuming that you have correctly saw the full pattern. But, what if instead the pattern continued as:

10, 10, 20, 20, 30, 30, 40, 40, 50, 50.

You can see that the pattern does logically follow,  though not in a way that was expected from seeing only the first part of the pattern.

It Might be More Complicated Than You Think

The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that just because we think we see a pattern it doesn't mean we can just assume we have the whole picture.  After all, it might turn out that the next set in the sequence is not

100, 100, 200, 200 etc...

It might turn out to be

010, 010, 020, 020 etc...

That is, not based on math at all, but on building symmetrical symbols one character at a time. (I could go on and on finding unexpected but consistent patterns,  but I'll quit here).

Do Critics of Catholicism See All The Details?

By now, you're probably wondering what this has to do with Catholicism or Christianity in general. The answer is, many times the faith is attacked as being "nothing but," based on what the critic sees as a pattern. But, if one's view of the pattern is too limited, the odds are that the critic will miss the big picture.

As St. Thomas Aquinas put it, small error in the beginning,  large [error] in the end (Parvus error in initio magnus erit in fine). If you make an error at the beginning, the calculations based on that error will also be false.

Think about this. If you assume a Catholic teaching on abortion is based on "controlling women" as an initial premise, you'll miss the entire teaching on the value of human life which also leads to the Church teaching on immigration, poverty, euthanasia, trafficking and many other issues. You'll miss the entire concept of respecting human life from conception to natural death. It's a pattern far richer than assumed by the proponents of the "controlling women" theory.

A Historical Case of Missed Facts

Here's another example. In 1937, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical, 
Mit Brenender Sorge (With burning sorrow or with deep anxiety) in response to the Nazi regime. I have met people deluded by the "Catholic Church was pro-Hitler" slander to argue that the encyclical did not mention Germany by name. Therefore, they claim, it was not anti-Nazi.

Such people overlook some crucial facts when it comes to solving the pattern. For example:

1) instead of the usual Italian, this encyclical was written in German.
2) the Vatican smuggled the encyclical into Germany to get it past Nazi censors.
3) Pope Pius XI ordered to be read from the pulpit in every Church in Germany on 3/14/1937 (Passion [Palm] Sunday -- a very heavily attended Mass). This order was not made for any other country.
4) After it was read, the Nazis confiscated all the copies they could find and priests were harassed and even arrested.

These facts show that the Catholic Church did want Germans (especially German Catholics who were obligated to follow this teaching, and that the Nazis knew who was being condemned.


Without knowledge of the pattern, we can't avoid reaching the wrong conclusion. Likewise, without knowing the pertinent facts, the judgments we make will end in error. When people make accusations against the Church, we can only consider them credible if they have the pertinent facts and see the correct patterns.

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